If the grey hulking mass of the former Central St Martin’s Building in Southampton Row, London has ghosts of its former students and staff walking through the empty rooms, left almost as they were when the doors were closed and the School moved to its magnificent new building at King’s Cross, then they would be chuckling this weekend as the dusty rooms have been cleaned and filled with the best of contemporary design, furniture and lighting.
The building was originally built for the Central School of Art and Design which merged with St Martin’s in 1989. Originally established as the Central School of Arts and Crafts in 1896, it had links back to the Arts and Crafts movement, with the first Principal being William Lethaby who oversaw the design of the original building. He would be chuckling if he could see how building, which has remained derelict since the move to King’s Cross in 2011, has been brought to life for Design Junction as part of London Design Festival.
Design Junction has taken over two empty locations, the other being the basement of Victoria House across the road where the owners have spoilt the atmosphere by tidying up the services and giving it a lick of white paint, though white ceramic tiles in the areas which go under the pavement still provide something of its past character. Semi-derelict spaces need to remain exactly that, as with the Bargehouse at the Oxo Tower which is also being used during the London Design Festival, for Designers Block showing the work of 100 new and established independent designers.
The range and quality of contemporary design on show illustrates the fantastic creativity of designers in the UK and abroad, including a room dedicated to Danish furniture design. The organisers have cleverly matched the exhibitors to the character of the spaces, so that the former large studios – some with the old extract equipment still in place – are used by furniture companies, former workshops which still retain their worn wooden benches are given over to jewellery and lighting companies and darker rooms allow lighting installations to shine.
Perhaps former staff and students who worked in the building will revisit it during Design Junction and hopefully enjoy the new, if temporary transformation. As such a venue, its life is limited as it is planned to redevelop with the original building into a luxury hotel. London will gradually run out of these unique exhibition venues.